Who Wrote 1 John?

The APostle JohnThe three letters of John are among the last written in the apostolic era. According to the traditional view of these three letters, they were written by John the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles, most likely the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John. He also wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. We know very little about John’s activity after Acts 8 and even there he is only mentioned as a companion of Peter. Even though there is a good argument to be made he did ministry in Samaria, little can be known with any certainty.

The Gospel of John has several hints he led a synagogue of Christian Jews and Samaritans. According to tradition, he left Judea and Samaria in the mid-60s just before the Jewish War began and relocated in Ephesus. He led Jewish Christian congregations there until the late 80s or early 90s when he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He wrote the Gospel of John about 85, the three letters and Revelation about 90. He died in the early 90s and was buried in Ephesus. His grave became Saint John’s Basilica and ruins of this church are still a tourist site in Ephesus.

As with most things traditional, almost every aspect of this story is disputed. Like the Gospel of John, the first letter is anonymous and there is no way to prove John left Judea or Galilee and traveled anywhere. The traditions about John the son of Zebedee moving to Ephesus are complicated by the use of the title “John the Elder.” The Elder is the author of Second and Third John, but there is some question whether the John the Elder is the same person as John the Apostle. Eusebius and Jerome both though there were two different men, the Apostle John (who wrote the Gospel and Revelation) and John the Elder, who wrote at least Second and Third John.

In addition, John would have been very old by the end of the first century, leading some to suggest the Gospel and letters represent a community formed around John rather than an elderly John writing these letters himself. Raymond Brown developed the Johannine Community theory in his Anchor Bible Commentaries on the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John and remains a popular view, although it has been frequently challenged.

There are also some complicated theories about how the Gospel of John was formed and how the first letter may be a response to a misunderstanding of an earlier edition of the Gospel. The first letter has been described both as a “cover letter” for the Gospel and as a hermenutical guide for reading the Gospel.

The situation for Second and Third John is slightly different since the author identifies himself as “the elder.” But this not much of a hint at the identity of the author. There even some in the early church who wondered if the Second John needed to be in the canon since it is a brief summary of First John and adds almost nothing to what the first letter says.

Regardless of all this scholarly consternation about the origins of these letters, they are among the most popular among Bible readers today. First John is very practical, easy to read yet challenging both theologically and spiritually.

9 thoughts on “Who Wrote 1 John?

  1. The idea that the same author wrote John and Revelation is absurd. The author of Revelation was likely John Zebedee, and he wrote it around 41 A.D.. This date is ascertained by Paul’s reference to at II Corinthians 12:1-5, where Paul mocks the 7 thunders since they reveal nothing except making their author more important since the revelation gives him knowledge he is forbidden to make known (Rev. 10:1-4), and then reveals its revealing angel as Satan appearing as an angel of light (ii Cor. 11:13-15). The Gospel of John and the letters are likely written by John Mark, a cousin of Jesus.,

    Woodrow Nichols

  2. Tradition can either become the friend or the enemy of facts and history. In the case of the letter of 1 John, this truth directly applies.
    John, being a very popular name during the time of Christ allows for scholars to examine which John may have written this particular letter. It is no doubt why some scholars suggest John Mark, the association of Peter and author of the Gospel of Mark. However, a great deal of doubt is cast upon this idea because there are almost no similarities between the Gospel of Mark and the letter of 1 John. This is often why John Mark is not considered the author of 1 John. However, John the Disciple and brother of James who is the son of Zebedee, is the one considered to be the author of the Gospel of John as well as 1-3 John. In a comparison of the Gospel of John and 1 John, there is a great deal of similarities. According to Jobes, the way each of the books starts is very similar, focusing on “the beginning” (Jobes 405). It is clear that the author wants to focus on what he is about to say from start to finish in both of these narratives and it should be noted that neither specifically say that John wrote them, such as the other Jewish Christian literature specifies. An important piece of evidence is that John refers to himself as an eyewitness in 1 John 1:1, showing that he was there for the events of Christ’s ministry. A notable fact is that in the Gospel of John, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1,23; 19:26; 21:7, 21:20) and in 2-3 John he calls himself “the elder”.
    Jobes explains that many of the church fathers of the second and third generations either combined or considered 1 John and 2 John or 2 John and 3 John to be the same text (Jobes 447). Jobes also suggests that possibly these were a collection of letters brought to Gaius, with 3 John as a personal letter addressed to Gaius himself and 2 John as an opener to 1 John, which was a sermon to a church (Jobes 440, 447). An important fact to note is that even the church fathers recognized John as the author of 1 John, and never had its canonicity disputed – either by the church fathers or today – displaying the fact that this letter was written upon apostolic authority (Jobes 431-432).
    There are many small pieces of evidence backed up by Scripture to show that John, brother of James, was the author of 1 John, as well as the author of 2 John and 3 John.

  3. Jobes states that the authorship of 1 John is anonymous (Jobes 399). The reason that this is so interesting is because it lines up with much of what the New Testament claims about the writers of many books. If the authorship is hard to pin, often times we assume that it was written by a collective group of people who were surrounded by this person who claimed authorship. The term “we” is used much in 1 John and that is often times where we find this claim to authorship. If the author, is constantly describing themselves as “we” then usually it is a group of people that all write in someones name. These people usually know the person very well and are very familiar with their writing styles and what not. The only issue is that maybe they include things that the author might not have wanted or including things differently. 1 John portrays the version of “we” that describes a community of people rather than just one individual, which claims authorship by more than just one person.

  4. At the conclusion of this blog post, it is mentioned that the book of 1 John in the New Testament is a very practical and easy to read book, but the book is not easy from the standpoint of how this book challenges Christians theologically and spiritually. When I read this statement of the blog post, I immediately agreed with the premise of the statement. After reading the text of Jobes (2011) on this book, as well as the text from the Bible itself. The book is not a challenging read in terms of understanding the meaning and messages that are incorporated throughout the text. Other books of the Bible are much more challenging to understand based on the content and the message. However, like other books in the Bible, the book of 1 John does an excellent job of challenging its readers. As a student of the Bible and a Christian, there is nothing I like more than a book that I can easily read and understand, but I will also be challenged and motivated to serve the kingdom of God in a better manner.

    According to Jobes (2011), the letter of 1 John is an anonymous letter (p. 398). This relates to the discussion of this specific blog post. Like other letters in the New Testament where the author is not agreed upon, it is important to understand why the author of the letter is not always named. In personal letters, it would not be expected that the author identify themselves. Jobes (2011) claims that the letter of 1 John is a letter that fits this description of a letter that is personal and would not require a formal introduction. It is important to study the context and dates of these kinds of letters to get a better understanding of who wrote the letter or book in the Bible.

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). The Letters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

  5. For anybody who reads this comment please review 2nd Corinthians in your bibles as this totally false information.

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